Saturday, March 8, 1997
Food, toys, medicine:
When in doubt, throw it out

Flood water and post-flood cleanup can pose health risks - everything from contaminated drinking water to electrical shocks to food poisoning. Some tips:

Drinking water

If possible, use bottled water. It's safe.

If your municipal water supplier has issued a ''boil advisory,'' boil all drinking water at least 5 minutes before using (10 minutes is ideal). Continue boiling it until the advisory is lifted.

If you suspect your drinking water has been contaminated, boil it to kill germs. For extra safety, add a few drops of unscented chlorine bleach to water, let stand for a few minutes and then boil. Cool before drinking.

Don't use water from a private or open well until it has been inspected and cleared by your county health department.


Throw out fresh and pantry-type foods that have touched floodwater or water from broken pipes. Throw out canned goods that are bulging, leaking or dented. Throw out jars and cans of foods with a screw-on lid, pop-top, peel-off top or wax seal. Throw out paper/cardboard juice boxes.

Canned goods can be saved only if they are not leaking, bulging or dented and are thoroughly sanitized. To sanitize: remove the label and mark the can's contents in permanent ink. Wash cans in a strong detergent solution with a scrub brush. Carefully clean lids and seams. Soak cans in a bleach solution (two teaspoons bleach to one quart water) for 15 minutes. Air dry the cans before opening them.

Do not eat any food that looks, feels or smells suspicious.


Clean and disinfect all surfaces that have come in contact with floodwater.

Make a disinfecting solution by adding 12 to 1 cup chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. Change cleaning water frequently.

Wipe all surfaces, walls, counters, dishes, glass and plastic ware with disinfecting solution; allow to sit for two minutes and then rinse with clean water. Dry surfaces quickly to avoid growth of mold and mildew.

Wear protective clothing on arms, feet and legs while cleaning up debris. Protect hands with rubber or heavy-duty gloves.

Avoid touching your mouth, eyes or open cuts during cleanup. Germs and microbes in the water or mud can cause infections and sickness.


Discard medicine - prescription or over-the-counter - that has come in contact with floodwater or debris. If possible, take a photo of the spoiled medicine in case you need verification for insurance.

Call your doctor as soon as possible for a refill.


Throw away soft plastic and porous items, including kitchen utensils, that might have come in contact with flood- water and might have absorbed water or microbes. Items include wooden spoons, wooden cutting boards, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers.

Disinfect metal pans and utensils by boiling in clean water for 10 minutes.

Children's toys

Examine all hard-surface toys that have come in contact with flood water. These include play equipment, outdoor furniture, plastic or metal toys and the like. Clean toys with soap and water to remove dirt; then rinse with clean water. Disinfect by soaking at least two minutes in a disinfecting solution (12 to 1 cup chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water). Dry.

Use common sense on other toys. Soft, plush or porous toys that have touched floodwater probably should be thrown away. If you don't know if the toy can be safely washed or disinfected, err on the side of safety and throw it out.


Call your local health department.

Call the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline for information about food safety, 1-800-535-4555.

Call the ''Cooperative Extension Service'' office in your county.

Source: Cincinnati Health Department; The Clorox Co.

- Sue MacDonald